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Dear ADDitude: What If the Principal Is Unfair?

“My son hangs out with a group of very active and physical boys who sometimes play rough. When this happens, the principal seems to single out my son for especially harsh and random punishments. How do I approach the school about this unfair treatment?”

ADDitude Answers

I would be upset, too. Start with the school counselor, who might work with the boys as a group to teach the skills of appropriate play. If you are friendly with other parents, talk to the school counselor as a group. This will show that you are not singling out one child, but trying to teach all of the boys the rules of good behavior.

If this doesn’t help, write a letter to the principal outlining your concerns and your efforts to resolve the situation. You can hand-deliver the letter, but I would suggest sending copies to the district superintendent, the special-ed coordinator, and the IEP/504 coordinator (assuming your son or some of the other boys have one). Approach the situation with the attitude that you want to help all of the boys learn skills for playing together.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

ADDitude Answers

Unfortunately, if you are not getting anywhere with the principal, you are going to have to go over his head. I would contact the exceptional children’s/special education director for your school board and have a chat about this. Kids with ADHD and other disabilities have a legal right to equality at school. The US Office of Civil Rights takes complaints of discrimination for kids with disabilities, which is an option if you cannot resolve this locally, but also something you can explain to principal and school board, if necessary.

Your other option is to get an educational advocate to step in: Educational Advocates: Do You Need One?

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I feel your pain! All through school my son has had a different set of rules just for him. If he were to tap a girl on the shoulder, all the other kids tell on him. He loses recess. But if one of the other kids shoves a girl on the shoulder, nobody thinks anything of it. My son is in 3rd grade and he is 9. He is in an intervention class with three other kids, but the teachers can’t handle him. He is always being sent to the principal office. Aren’t the teachers and administrators supposed to be the experts???

Posted by broncotimothy

A Reader Answers

You know what I think I might try at this point? Going to talk to the dean of students (or whoever is above the principal) face to face. Go in with a very non-confrontational, let’s be a team-type approach. See if you can teach her a little bit about ADHD and what’s it like to have the condition. Tell her what works best for your son and what you’d like to do to help. See if you can get her to see how an approach like the principal’s makes him feel. He has no control over his impulses, so making it a moral flaw only serves to degrade him, wreck his self-esteem and probably leads to frustration and more behavior the principal won’t like.

It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a try. At least once you’ve done that, you can plan to lay down the law on what can and can’t be said to your child. My son still doesn’t have an IEP, so I had my son’s doctor write out a formal prescription that says what he needs in class for now.

Posted by Rai0414

A Reader Answers

We’ve had several conversations with the school staff, dean of students, principal, and teachers. Last year’s teacher was an “escalator.” Like you said, broncotimothy, if my guy looked like he was going to do something, it was straight to the principal’s office. Of course, if someone did something to him, he was told to handle it himself.

This year he has a wonderful teacher and it’s amazing what a difference a that can make. The teacher counts on my guy to help do things and my son has stepped up to the challenge. Finally he has someone at school who believes he can do good so he wants to make his teacher proud.

I feel like I’m talking to a rock when we have conversations about ADHD with the school staff. I think I’ve made a valid point and explained it and then they say “But why can he stand in line sometimes but not others?” ARGH! I just explained that. Maybe the kid behind him is breathing on him? Maybe he’s hungry. Maybe he’s got ADHD and he can’t always control himself. To which they reply “But if we take away his privileges, he will learn to control himself.” At this point, I picture myself standing, putting a hand on each of the staff’s heads, and knocking them together.

I’m afraid last year’s teacher set the tone for my son, and the staff considers him a troublemaker. They think I’m the lazy parent who can’t be bothered to parent their child.

Posted by linkybo

A Reader Answers

Make it very clear that it is not a behavioral problem your son is having, it is a disability problem. Speak with no emotion, just confident fact. Point out that impulsive, sometimes difficult behavior is tied to ADHD. This is all part of the disability. Stand up firmly for your child. Have your son tested independently if you need to and then bring the results to the school and demand, not request that the school evaluate for services. Good luck.

Posted by Peacfldove

A Reader Answers

It’s well known that punishments don’t work well to motivate students with ADHD. The “don’t care” attitude that many children develop probably comes from being hardened to the constant negative feedback they receive. It is their “normal”.

The principal’s focus should be on helping the child and building in regular reminders about proper behavior throughout the day. Expecting a child with ADHD just to overcome a problem through personal willpower alone is not going to work.

I would talk to the school about using positive motivators to encourage your son to stay on track with behavior. What does your son really like and enjoy? A special sport at recess? A favorite computer game?

At home, why not start a chart with successful days completed and then build up to some kind of positive reward? Start off with small daily rewards, move to weekly rewards and then larger monthly rewards.

Posted by Nanay

A Reader Answers

I had same issue all last year and the beginning of this year. Your school should be taking appropriate measures for your son to achieve without constant punishment.

Your school district should have a family advocate. Your son should possibly see a counselor and possibly be evaluated for special education class where they specialize in dealing with children with behavior issues.

In the meantime, try to come up with strategies for teachers to try. It’s all about trial and error, but don’t let it continue as is. You have to work with school to make this better.

I give rewards to my son monthly now, but we started off daily then weekly before we got to this point. The rewards at home encourage him to do better in school.

Teachers also helped by constantly reminding him about proper behavior using a chart I gave them to enforce it. I spoke to school psychologist and she spoke to his teachers so they are on top of it and are trying different things to help.

Posted by Anthony18Mommy

A Reader Answers

This is a sign something’s not right. You should meet with the school to strategize ways for your son to be successful. He does not want to be constantly reprimanded, just as you don’t want to be called to hear about bad behavior. Something isn’t working. If I were you I’d press the school on details of his misbehavior. Then ask for more accommodations to prevent the situation. For example, misbehaving while waiting, maybe he can’t wait and should be first or last in line.

Posted by NYCMommy

A Reader Answers

Your story matches my son’s closely. It started in preschool and culminated to several suspensions beginning in kindergarten and escalating to home crisis teaching from 2nd grade.

After educating myself about the laws and rights afforded to kids with ADHD (see disability under IDEA laws, 504, IEP) I finally learned how to request an advocate and secure the necessary testing and supports/services to help my son succeed. He’s on a medication that’s helping him manage his school day and is finally transitioning back to being a full-time student by end of February.

My best advice to you is educate yourself and don’t be afraid to make requests and suggestions. The school is legally obligated to set up an IEP meeting to discuss options but don’t expect them to freely offer it or services. An advocate is your best asset to ensuring success for your child. Good luck!

Posted by AngieBaby